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'Race to Nowhere' film highlights stress students face in high-pressure academics

Documentary film attempts to show the pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers.

For Jennifer Powers, 43, mother of two in Bethesda, the film hit harder than she expected. "I feel like I'm living this experience," she said.

Powers said she was moved to hear one pediatric expert in the film confess that in spite of his own efforts to guard against pressuring his children to do well, he sometimes worried about the college they would attend.

"I think we [as parents] are anxious about this stuff, and I think we have put it on our kids," Powers said. "But when you step back and say, 'It's not important,' you worry about that too. It's a balancing act."

Abeles said it was important for communities to come together to address the issues raised in the film. She told of an elementary school that cut back on homework and encouraged reading, and how several high schools did away with or limited AP courses.

For parents and schools, "I think it feels scary to make these changes alone," she said.

Abeles told the audience she was disappointed more students had not attended.

"They're all doing their homework," someone called out, eliciting laughter.

As the evening ended, Abeles was surrounded by parents and educators who wanted the discussion to go on.

"You've definitely got us on your team," said Claudia Helmig, 39, a Norwood parent and mother of three who found Abeles "so approachable, and one of us."

"There was a lot of sadness in the movie," she said, "but when you get out of there you also have hope that people are uncovering some truths and have the energy to make change."

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